The Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland is a 12-day, extremely remote exploration of a very little-visited part of the world. If you truly want to get away from it all and see some of the most dramatic mountain, glacier and fjord scenery on Earth – then head to Greenland and do this trek. This is about as far off the beaten track as you can get!
THE BASICS OF GREENLAND’S UNPLUGGED WILDERNESS TREK
Closest Major City: Reykjavik, Iceland.
Start: This guided tour starts in Reykjavik, Iceland. From there you are flown to Kulusuk in East Greenland and then transported by boat to the start of the hike near the Karale Glacier. There are very limited supplies in Kulusuk so you should bring all personal items with you.
Accommodations: Camping in expedition-style tents for the first 8 nights. Rustic mountain hut for 2 nights. Hostel for 1 night.
Costs: This fully supported, remote, long-distance trek is only offered by Icelandic Mountain Guides and their Greenlandic brand: Greenland Adventures. It costs from USD$3,500, which includes an experienced arctic wilderness guide, transportation in East Greenland, tents, and more food than you can possibly eat. It does not include the flights to and from Greenland. I have done several treks with this company in both Iceland and Greenland and have only the highest praise for them. There is a reason they are the premier outdoor adventure company in Iceland.
Length: 12 days.
When to Go: July – September
This is a very remote trek in an area where there are no trails, several glaciers to cross, and polar bears may be found. Unless you have extensive backcountry experience, know how to read a glacier, know how to navigate with a map and compass, and know how to defend yourself against polar bears, you must do this as a guided tour.
From a health perspective, there is little to worry about on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in Greenland. If you are reasonably fit and healthy and accustomed to carrying a day pack on multi-day hikes, you should have no problems.
A few things to note:
- You will not be walking on trails for most of this trek, therefore you must have footwear that includes strong ankle support. It also helps to have waterproof boots as, depending on how extreme the winter was, you may be walking through snow for part of the trip. You should also bring river crossing shoes (there are no bridges, but plenty of rivers), and it is a good idea to bring neoprene socks to help to ward off the cold when crossing water that flows directly off glaciers.
- It is important to come prepared with sufficient clothing for East Greenland’s changeable weather. Make sure you pack at least a base layer, mid layer, and a full wind and waterproof layer (top and bottom).
- Water in Greenland is safe to drink, even directly out of streams. You only need to carry a 1L water bottle with you as you hike.
- Although the Greenlandic mosquitoes are insanely annoying and their bites can be itchy, they do not carry any diseases. Even if you think you are going to miss the worst of the mosquito season, bring a head net and insect repellent with you to save your sanity in case they find you.
- You will need to cross a couple of glaciers on this trek. Your guide will explain how to use crampons and safely navigate the glacier – just make sure you follow their instructions.
- You are expected to help with setting up and pulling down camp each day. This involves pitching your own sleeping tent with your tent-buddy, pitching the cook/dining tent, and transporting all the food, cooking equipment, tables, chairs and other items from where the support boat leaves them to the actual campsite (usually not far).
- You will need to be able to carry additional weight up to the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut, including your sleeping bag, personal items and a share of the food for the 2 days spent there.
ROUTE FOR UNPLUGGED WILDERNESS TREK
From the first campsite in the Karale Fjord, your view is of icebergs, jagged mountains and 3 different glaciers. This is a great introduction to the scenery you will experience over the next 11 days as you make your way along fjords, over mountains and glaciers, and across glacial rivers on this ~140km epic adventure.
Although the route is not difficult for the most part, the lack of a trail, steep inclines, the prevalence of scree, and the possibility of snow can make for some challenges. There is also a section on the climb to the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut that requires the use of ropes. The guide is there to help you in all cases.
For the most part, however, the route is not difficult and you hike through pristine wilderness that has seen very few visitors. The exception is on Day 5 when you reach the remote and abandoned WWII air base of Bluie East Two at Ikateq. Although it is an environmental disaster (at least until the Greenlandic and Danish governments clean it up), it does provide an interesting counterpoint to the rest of the trek.
Greenland’s Unplugged Wilderness Trek Map
Day 1: Flight from Reykjavik to Kulusuk. Boat transfer from Kulusuk to Karale campsite. Possible short hike near camp. Flight time = 2hrs. Sailing time = 2hrs.
Day 2: Karale Fjord. 7-8 hrs
Day 3: Karale Glacier. 6-7 hrs
Day 4: Karale Campsite – Nunartivaq mountain – Beach campsite. 6-7 hrs
Day 5: Beach campsite – Ikateq. 6-7 hrs
Day 6: Ikateq – Tunup Kua valley. 6-7 hrs
Day 7: Tunup Kua valley – Tasiilap Nua valley – Tasiilaq Fjord campsite 1. 6-7 hours
Day 8: Tasiilaq Fjord campsite1 – Tasiilaq Fjord campsite 2. 6-7 hrs.
Day 9: Tasiilaq Fjord campsite 2 – Tasiilaq Mountain Hut. 5-6 hrs.
Day 10: Tasiilaq Mountain Hut summit climb. 6-7 hrs.
Day 11: Tasiilaq Mountain Hut – Tasiilaq Fjord campsite 2. Boat transfer to Kulusuk. Hiking time = 4-5 hrs. Sailing time = 2 hrs
Day 12: Kulusuk – Reykjavik. Flight time = 2hrs
- This is completely dependent on your guide. Our guide swapped Days 2 and 3 to align better with the weather forecast.
This is a very remote trek that uses shared, expedition-style tents (transported by the support boats) for the majority of the trip. The company provides the tents and the guide will show you how to set them up on the first evening. From then on, your tent-buddy and yourself are responsible for setting up and dismantling your own tent. You must bring your own sleeping bag and sleeping mat.
The Tasiilaq Mountain Hut on Days 9-10 is a basic but very comfortable backcountry hut with dormitory style sleeping arrangements and a cosy kitchen/living room. There are no toilet facilities, no internet and no opportunity for charging batteries.
The Kulusuk Hostel on Day 11 is a simple but lovely dormitory-style accommodation with a large kitchen, living room, balcony with a glorious view, dry toilet, and warm shower. There is no internet, but it is possible to charge batteries.
Note: there are no toilet or shower facilities until the last night in Kulusuk. Please practice appropriate backcountry etiquette when toileting to preserve the pristine nature of the environment. An interesting challenge (specially for women) is to find a private space to do your business as there are no trees in this part of Greenland!
The trekking company provides an enormous amount of food which is transported in the support boats and cooked by the guide (though help is always welcome). Each day, you must make your own lunch to carry with you in your day-pack, and it is normal to share the snacks and tea/coffee thermoses for the day’s hike amongst the group.
You can bring your own snacks if you like, but I find there is more than enough to eat with what is provided in the food boxes.
Written by: Lisa Germany – you can read Lisa’s extensive trip report on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek here.